Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Category Archives: Tree growing advice

How to stop foxes and deer from raiding your apple trees

A reader and customer wrote to Dan a few days ago, about the first crop on his two new trees. The trees supplied by Suffolk Fruit & Trees are always 2-3 years old and so they dutifully flowered in the first season after fruiting. Dan advised to grow just two apples on each tree for their first crop in the garden, and so the owner removed all surplus fruitlets towards the end of May. His first two Cox apples grew to maturity, but the Fiesta apples were raided by foxes. And so what will happen in subsequent seasons when the Fiesta tree is in full production?

Dan said, “In the next and following seasons, when the fruit is beginning to ripen, you could try this method. It is often effective to hang a small, highly scented piece of soap using a metal S-hook. This often deters foxes and deer. Once the piece of soap loses its scent, it is no longer effective. Check and replace it if this is the case.”

Fox in a garden, photo Mike Holloway/

Fox in a garden, photo courtesy of Mike Holloway/

Crop rotation in fruit growing in the garden

As the volume of fruit grown commercially in the UK is nowhere near enough to satisfy demand, the departure of the UK as a member of the European Union is likely to cause a rise in prices for fruit in the shops. It is therefore very important that fruit trees in the garden are healthy and have a structure such that a good proportion of the fruit can be picked from ground level. This is perfectly possible provided the basic facts of crop rotation are not ignored.

For example we must remember that if an old apple tree is grubbed because it has reached the end of its life, then we certainly can plant another fruit tree on that spot, but not another apple tree. Crop rotation does not only apply to vegetables in the garden. It also applies to fruit trees. In other words, apple after apple or pear after pear is not to be recommended. If this is done all the same, replant disease will probably badly affect the new tree, and the growing and the cropping of the tree will be a disappointment. And yet it is so easily to achieve good growth and cropping of new trees. Just plant a pear or a plum or a cherry at the place where the old apple tree spent its time of life and all will be well. Water the young trees weekly and the trees will have a very good start in life. Particularly if well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost is applied as an extra tonic.

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

Old fruit trees in a Suffolk garden

The effects of weather on fruit trees, April-May 2017

This year, April and May have been very problematic weather-wise for anyone who is interested in home-grown fruit. On several nights, temperatures dropped to well below freezing. This has affected all the different types of fruit, inflicting moderate to severe frost damage to open blossom. Crop prospects are definitely a lot better on those trees which were covered with a double layer of garden fleece. Because of the tendency to flower earlier in the season, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums are all very badly affected. Apples, which flower later, usually still set some sort of a crop. This year I am afraid that even apples will have been thinned out a lot, particularly in frost pockets. We will know by the end of May for sure about the initial set. By early July we will finally know what’s left; this after the June drop has further reduced the number of fruits. Who said growing fruit is easy?

What to do next? Watch this space.

Evidence of frost damage on leaves

A question on espalier training

Here is a photo of the pear tree I bought and planted in February. It seems to be growing well! And, following advice on your web site, I plan to install the first espalier wire in the next couple of weeks.

young espalier pear

I see the two side branches growing at about 45 degrees to the main stem, with new growth on them going vertically upwards. Instruction on the website says tie them at 60 degrees to the horizontal. My question is, how high above the fork where the side branches come out, should I install the espalier wire? I assume I should do nothing about the tying new growth until August – is that right? At which point I will bend them to go along the wire.

Dan Neuteboom replies:
You have done a first class job of planting your tree. Just do nothing now and let the tree do its growing. By the middle of August adjust the angle of the 2 main side branches to approx. 60 degrees to the vertical centre leader. By August therefore place the horizontal wire at such a height to achieve this. Do not cut back or prune any of the branches.

Growing apricots in the UK, top ten tips

Early Moorpark

Early Moorpark

It is a great delight to grow apricots and look after apricot trees. It is a very amenable type of fruit and fairly easy to grow. Here I provide some tips from practical experience.

1. An apricot tree has to be on a South facing wall and the planting hole needs to be thoroughly prepared. Use John Innes, number 3, soil-based tree planting compost and make sure the tree is not subject to a leak in the gutter above it.

2. Fix large-size shelf brackets onto the wall above the apricot tree and construct a wooden shelf. You can use this to fasten the double layer of fleece each year as soon as the first flower begins to open. At that moment, cover the entire tree, and make sure the wind cannot blow off the fleece at any time. It has to stay in position until the middle of May. Lift the fleece during the day only, when the tree is in flower, so that pollinating insects can carry out their work. All this because the Apricot is very sensitive to frost. In addition, until leaf starts to develop, it is sensitive to fungal diseases such as “peach leaf curl” and bacterial canker. The great thing about apricot growing is that you do not need to use any chemicals, if you protect the tree as outlined above.

3. The tree loves organic matter around its base, but not touching the trunk. It hates the grass around its base, so mulch the tree well, to keep grass and weeds away from around the trunk area.

4. Never let the tree struggle for moisture.

5. Thin the young fruitlets when the size of a large pea and space them to at least 4 to 6 inches apart.

6. It will need a space of approx. 6 to 7 metres wall length. Shorter is possible but more summer pruning is necessary. NEVER prune the tree during the winter months but always when there is a full canopy of leaves. Pick the fruit when turning yellow in August and flavour has developed well.

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/

Golden Glow, photo courtesy of coblands_plants/

7. One has to be aware of the fact that over-cropping of apricots can lead to having too much crop in one year and not enough in the next year. This applies particularly to the 1 year old wood of well-grown healthy trees. If there is an abundance of blossom on this wood, then this wood needs to be cut back before the blossom has a chance to set fruit.

8. When the size of the best young fruits has reached around 10mm in fruit size, then it is the right time to seriously reduce the number of fruits. Bring back bunches of fruitlets to singles and space the fruits 6 to 8 inches apart. Always retain the largest fruits.

9. Continue to foliar feed the tree and water the tree during the summer months. A shortage of moisture during the summer will affect the quality of the fruit buds the following year.

10. If any summer pruning needs to be done later during the summer months, remove surplus strongly-growing laterals. Do not cut out any new shoots which have closed down early. These usually carry the best fruit buds for the following year and therefore should be retained.

The most important thing: remember that the tree blossoms very early, usually in March or early April, and that if blossom is exposed to temperatures of -1 degrees Celsius or colder, it will be killed, and no fruit will be formed. That’s why protection with garden fleece is essential during spring frosts as described above.

We can supply apricot varieties suitable for growing in the UK. Click here to go to the tree varieties page, where you can use the web form provided to ask for any additional information you may require with regard to your order.

Apricot Fan Training

Here are the instructions for fan training an apricot tree:

Start with 2 side branches
Cut these back by about 2 inches. Remove all other growth. (March)
Promote strong growth. (Water, nutrients, warmth).
Seal all fresh pruning cuts with “Heal and Seal” compound to prevent bacterial canker infection.

Late September
Select 2 shoots on either side.
Tie in with bamboo canes at 45 degree angles
Cut back the original side branches and the extra 4, by about a third of their length.
Continue to feed well (slow release fertilizer, Osmacote or the equivalent).

February/March of the following year
Select the final 2 branches.
Carry out the same procedure as in the previous year.
After cropping (August), cut out the wood that carried a crop. Tie in new canes to replace the wood that carried fruit. Develop fruit spurs.
Apricot crops best on younger wood, but it does crop on the older spurs.
Never prune plums, cherries, apricots, peach and nectarine during the winter months but ALWAYS as soon as you have picked the crop. This to avoid disease build-up.

Espalier training of apricots

Follow instructions and recommendations as published here.

Tips for garden fruit trees, December-January

1) Check stakes and ties. Make sure the supporting stakes have not rotted off at ground level. Loosen ties where needed, if too tight.
2) Start pruning apple, pear and mulberry trees that have reached regular cropping.
3) Check that rabbit and deer guards are in good working order.
4) Check fruit in store. Remove rotten fruits
5) Apply farmyard manure where trees have been struggling
6) Cut out dead branches and canker wounds. Paint wounds with Arbrex or similar.
7) Apply winter wash if greenfly/aphids were a source of trouble last year.
8) Protect fruit buds of plums and pears. Bullfinches can cause serious damage during the winter months.
9) You’re still in time to order new trees. In addition to the 5-tree Orchard Pack, Suffolk Fruit & Trees is now offering a Two-Tree Training Pack for Cordon, Espalier and Fan-Shaped Trees, specially selected for training, and at a reduced price with respect to ready-trained trees.

Bullfinch by Jacob Spinks flickr

Bullfinch, photo courtesy of Jacob Spinks/

It’s almost time…

People who work in garden centres know that plants sell best when they have flowers on. In the same way, customers often start thinking about planting fruit trees in spring, when days are warmer and the sap is rising. In the winter, people like to be warm and cosy. Fruit trees are different: they like to be handled when it is cold and all the leaves have come off.

Trees evolved their life cycle to survive harsh winter conditions. In winter, there is far less light for photosynthesis, and the low temperatures can easily freeze and kill the leaves. So in the winter months, the tree shuts down, shedding its leaves and virtually halting its uptake of water from the soil, because sap movement has come to a standstill. That’s why January, February and March are the best time to plant fruit trees.

So, if you’re thinking about planting a few trees, now is the time to order, ready for delivery from December to the end of March. It’s also important to avoid planting trees in grass and weeds. Young fruit trees must be given a chance to build up their root systems unhindered by grass encroachment. Always make sure that a square yard of soil around the trunk of the trees is completely free from grass or weeds.

Young fruit trees ready for delivery

Excessive rainfall during the growing season

In many parts of the country we are experiencing very high levels of rain fall. This comes at a time when large amount of oxygen are needed in the soil. If soil drainage is not efficient in the soil where the fruit trees are planted, the trees can literally drown. Where there is excess water around the roots of the trees, the oxygen-bearing air is driven out of the soil and the roots die. The effect will not be visible immediately. However, as soon as droughty conditions return, the symptoms will be clearly visible: shoot die-back. More seriously, the trees’ immune system will have been seriously damaged. This means the trees will be an easy target for all types of fungal diseases, such as tree canker, armillaria root rot, crown rot, silver leaf, just to name a few.

Summarising, the soil is the tree’s home. It pays handsomely to ensure that all surplus water, up to a depth of 2 feet of soil, can drain away without any hindrance. Air can enter the soil again and all will be fine.

Flooding conditions, photo by Dave Gunn/

Flooding conditions, photo by Dave Gunn/

Tasks for garden fruit trees in June – part 2

Check your pheromone traps for codling and plum moths. Renew the lure if necessary. Start spraying the apple varieties which have a tendency towards bitterpit in the fruits. Apply fruit nets where bird trouble might occur, cherries in particular. Continue thinning out the fruitlets to doubles or singles. Remove scabby fruits at the same time. Start the summer pruning programmes of plums, cherries and greengages. The same applies to nectarines, peaches and apricots. Hang rolled up corrugated cardboard in the trees to attract the caterpillars which would otherwise damage foliage and fruits. Regularly inspect and renew when caterpillars are caught. Deal with aphids if present in too large a number in folded-up shoot tips. Do not let the trees dry out. This in particular applies to potted trees. Continue with foliar feeding if foliage of the fruit trees is not up to the mark. Make a start on preparing the ground where new trees will be planted in the autumn.

After natural drop, in June it is advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

After natural drop, in June it is advisable to reduce the number of fruitlets in a group like this

June fruit tree update

Your young fruit trees are now at top activity; new roots and shoots are being formed and young fruitlets are appearing. Therefore additional water, one full watering can a week, will help the tree very much. Any tree planted in a pot or a container, whose roots are therefore restricted, will need extra moisture in particular.

By the end of June, the clusters of young fruitlets will have to be thinned out. Two fruits per cluster will be plenty. Make sure these clusters of young fruitlets are spaced out. Approx. 6 to 8 inches apart is about right. The reason for this is because for each fruit to be able mature properly, it will need the help of 20 fully grown leaves.

Now is the optimum time to place your pheromone traps. Just read the notes placed for the month of May for further details.

Thinning fruitlets

After thinning, the result should be 2 fruitlets per group